Forensic Toxicology: Bits of Its History

Forensic toxicology is the practice of applying toxicology in relation to the law. The study of toxic substances and poisons began in the early 1800s, but different kinds of poisons have already been existing for thousands of years. In fact, research on ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations has proved that poisoning was already practiced during the time, often with the use of herbs and certain plants.

M.J.B. Orfila, Chairman of the Legal Medicine Department at Sorbonne in France, was the first to make an attempt to study and categorize poisons in 1814. Then in 1851, Jean Servais Stas has developed the first method to effectively extract alkaloids from biological specimens. This method was modified by F.J. Otto a couple of years later, and was later called the Stas-Otto method, which is still used as the basis for drug extraction to this day.

However, forensic toxicology became known in the US only in the beginning of the 20th century through Charles Morris who replaced the coroner system to a medical examiner system in New York. Alexander Gettler, the very first forensic toxicologist in the US, directed a laboratory in the Medical Examiner’s Office for 41 years.

It was because of the popularity of alcohol that an analytical method, which was used to study the pharmacokinetics of the said substance, was developed by Maurice Nicloux and Erik Widmark. They developed a formula that related the body weight, blood alcohol concentration, and the amount of alcohol consumed.


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